Many of us have had the experience of meeting a professional athlete. For some, it happens when Mike Schmidt signs a ball for you outside Veteran’s Stadium in 1983. Sometimes it happens when your dad recognizes Ray Knight’s World Series ring in the lobby of a Connecticut hotel after a fire alarm forces all guests out of their rooms. For most of us it’s probably like the time Louis CK met Luis Tiant—a childhood highlight that nevertheless simultaneously debases all involved.
This holiday season, you may wish to offer just this kind of debasing experience to both someone special in your life and their favorite athlete. Thuzio.com, a new start-up co-founded by Tiki Barber and boasting a Board of Advisors featuring such notables Gary Payton and Tony Meola (the Tony Meola!), offers athletes for rent for just about any occasion. Weddings, parties, anything. Bongo jams a speciality.
The promo spiel reads, “Thuzio connects you with professional athletes for unforgettable experiences.” The following are just a few of the unforgettable experiences that might be available to you at rock bottom prices.
Frank Catalanotto’s Mets career lasted five unmemorable minutes: 25 games, 26 plate appearances, one depressing start in the clean-up spot. Naturally, his Thuzio profile shows him in a Mets uniform. His booking area is centered on Long Island, which means he should be more than comfortable and wildly available for a night out in New York’s most hipster-shamed neighborhood. Take the L train to Lorimer and meet F-Catz outside St. Anselm, then grab a beer at Spuyten Duyvil while you wait for your table. Using the restroom, you find suspicious “1998 AL Pinch Hits Leader was here!” graffiti covering the walls. Dinner is uneventful, as promised “stories from his career” fail to materialize. Flush with cash, Catalanotto offers to buy a round at his favorite Long Island dive, but you decline. You really should not let Frank Catalanotto crash on your couch.
For only $1,250, you can stage the slam dunk contest of your dreams, the ultimate battle between power and finesse. You pull strings to open up your high school gym for the night, and invite a few close friends. They bring cardboard placards with the numbers 9.5 through 10, which they intend to use while judging the contest. Props are acquired. You have like fifteen pool noodles. You don’t even know what these guys are going to use them for, but you’re sure it’s going to be awesome.
Dee Brown and Chocolate Thunder arrive, and are decidedly not in slam dunk shape. One of your buddies suggests a low-impact game of H-O-R-S-E instead, and everyone gives it an honest effort. Dee Brown even tries to make something work with the pool noodles, but nobody is really feeling it. The AV club shows up and saves the day by showing a YouTube video of NBA mascot bloopers. This spurs Dawkins to tell a hilarious story about Vince Askew, the Sioux Falls Skyforce mascot and a case of Zima that is so off-color that the wrestling coach, who had been home and blissfully asleep when Dawkins began the story, shows up and kicks everybody out of the gym. It only gets better from there. Everyone gets their money’s worth. Do this.
Those in the Kansas City area will want to seek out what may be the greatest bargain on Thuzio. Arrangements are made to meet at Arthur Bryant’s for barbeque, and Brian Holman is taking no chances. He arrives wearing a Brian Holman Seattle Mariners jersey, 1990, game-used. While menus are consulted, “Holman” produces a check stub signed by Jeff Smulyan himself. He mentions, in passing, that he was one out away from a perfect game once.
But it is not all fun, and not entirely un-tense. There are intimations that uttering the name Ken Phelps in his presence will bring frightening consequences. Appetizers arrive, and so does Brad Holman, brother of Brian. He was in the neighborhood. Did you know he also played for the Mariners? You didn’t. An awkward cell phone call is placed to Harold Reynolds. He has some dim recollections of a guy named Holman, but didn’t know that there were two of them; he reminds the caller of the time-zone difference, that he has to be up in the morning. He acknowledges that he assumed it was just the same guy from the 1991 team, but wouldn’t really know because he was playing for the Orioles when Brad pitched his 19 games in 1993. Weeks later, you receive an unsolicited commemorative certificate. It’s a permanent and frame-suitable reminder of your dinner with the Philip Humber of the late 80’s (and his brother). That’s free of charge.
Kobayashi offers a choice of three restaurants for your lunch or dinner meeting. All are in lower Manhattan and feature entrées in the over-$20 range. Kobayashi does not even smile at your suggestion that you skip the fancy stuff for a trip to Papaya King. Things get ugly fast. The whole baked daurade was gone in a moment, and disappeared with frankly horrifying alacrity. Brown butter is everywhere.
You have never before seen someone dunk duck confit into a glass of water before swallowing. When Mr. Kobayashi excuses himself to use the restroom, you hastily organize a collection among your dining companions. Nobody has cash. You hope that Kobayashi is not working on a gourmet “reversal.” There is a pile of debit cards on the table, which you have to hide under a plate of pate de campagne when Kobayashi returns.
You tell him that you see Joey Chestnut at the bar, and while his head is turned you run. You run like you have never run before, run in the way that a person can run only if he knows he is being chased by someone who would and could devour him in two greedy bites. After sticking Kobayashi with the bill, you become a target for Thuzio’s “enforcement” department, which consists of Tiki Barber, Jeff Feagles(and his punts of death), and Ernie Accorsi. It ends badly for you. It’s still better than sticking out the meal with Kobayashi.
At $5,000 for just one hour, this might not seem like a bargain. What Mr. Sax doesn’t realize is that he has been invited to speak at a meeting of your book club. A book club that happens to be reading The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. As most of the book club’s members are not sports fans, they are sure to seek clarification on the historical precedents for the sudden inability of protagonist and hotshot shortstop Henry Skrimshander to throw the ball to first base. Mr. Sax squirms uncomfortably. Book club members discuss allusions and parallels to Moby-Dick, which Mr. Sax has not read. Mr. Sax squirms more uncomfortably. He has nothing to share. The chardonnay disappears prematurely. All eyes turn to Mr. Sax. Gradually the topic of conversation shifts to Orel Hershiser.